We wrote 50 bucket list items to be completed in our 50th year on this earth.
The top item to be completed was the Trans Siberian Railway. By fulfilling this section of railway, it means we would have accomplished our travel by train across the globe. Not everyone can say, that…
How does one organize it from Australia, while overlanding around Australia?
Where do we start from in Asia?
We really wanted to be able to travel overland as much as possible without catching a plane, but that is not possible from Australia. The only overland option is to catch a cruise boat from Sydney to Hong Kong. All cruise boats leave the Pacific by end of the season in March of every year, so that was not going to work. We had to fly into the starting point..
Why choose Hong Kong as the starting point?
NZL passport holders don’t need a visa to visit Hong Kong for a visit of up to 90 days. It is the same for American, Canadian, European and Australian Nationals. British Nationals get a 180 day visa on arrival.
Whereas if we started from Vietnam, we needed another visa on top of the three other visas we needed… so it was a no brainer to start in HK.
However it is less travelling time from Vietnam to Beijing, China only 12 hours in a train, whereas Hong Kong to Beijing, China is 24 hours in a train.
For this train trip, we needed the visas for China, Mongolia and Russia.
Time frame to complete visa applications
I had allowed six weeks in NZ to complete all visas. In the end, we flew on Friday night at midnight to HK and we got our Russian visas back from Wellington on the Thursday afternoon by courier. Thank God, I had allowed an extra week in Auckland, New Zealand to catch up with friends and family.
The visas need to be done in a sequence.
First, we applied for the Chinese Visa at the Chinese Consulate in Auckland.
The visa need to be done no more than 30 days prior to travel and takes 3 days to be processed.
One has to turn up really early on Monday morning to stand in the queue to even get into the Consulate. The consulate is only open from 9.30am to 12.30am. The staff only allow 100 people to enter every Monday morning.. but I forget that it was public holiday in China on the day we went, so we had to go back to the drawing board again. In the end, I ended up going home with a parking ticket at the Chinese Consulate in Greenlane, Auckland and preparing the documents for our Mongolian visas.
With our Mongolian visas now in our passports, we set off the following Monday morning the Chinese Embassy for Round number 2.
I took all paperwork for the Trans Siberian train with us. In the end, I was just asked whether I wanted two entries into China or one. We went for a single entry and exit.
Of all of the paperwork, I had prepared all the counter staff wanted was our hotel confirmations for Beijing and Hong Kong, International train ticket confirmation from HK to Beijing, China and our flight details to Hong Kong. We parted with another NZD$280 with more passport photos and were told to come back on the Wednesday morning.
Our beloved black passports were given back to us on the Wednesday with another visa in them.
The Mongolian visa has also a lot of paperwork to be prepared for it, plus one needs a letter of invitation from someone in Mongolia.
Letter of Invitation
Our 4wd guide tour company, Sunpath Mongolia, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia gave us a letter of invitation. The letter is provided free of charge, when one books a trip with them.
The visa application and passport photos plus NZD$320 with a return courier envelope need to be send to the Mongolian Consulate in Auckland. One can’t go to the Mongolian Consulate in person, only by courier.
The visa need to be done no more than 30 days prior to travel and takes 5 days to be processed including courier delivery time.
A lot has to happen before one can even send their passports away to the Russian Embassy in Wellington.
First item to be completed, is Travel Insurance. You need to have travel insurance policy number to be added to your visa application. Otherwise the Russian Embassy will not even process your visa. We choose World Nomads for the trip including kidnapping insurance.
Only in your home country
One has to be in their home country to apply for this visa. It even states it on the visa application. I was not looking forward to get this visa, as I had hear how difficult it was.
One needs to supply data on each country with dates, that one has been to in the last 10 years. We had been to 32 countries in the world by the time we applied for this visa…that was going to be a long list.
I was so surprised, when we got the visa application send to us, that it was not so difficult after all. I found it to be the easier one to get out of the 3 visas.. but yes, there is a lot of information to be filled out including our parents full legal names, address, DoB, and their passport numbers, but not all countries one has been to,when one applies for the visa in their home country
As a result of this visa application, I keep all of travel planning sheets in Excel
For the Russian visa,one needs another set of passport photos. Make sure, when you go to get the passport photos taken, that one mention which country the passport photos as for. Each country has its own set of rules.. just a word of warning.
Letter of Invitation and Paperwork
One needs a letter of invitation from a company in Russia. We got ours from Realrussia.co.uk free of charge as I had organized all train tickets thru them.
Next, they need one train schedule of all trains in Russia supplied by Real Russia travel company.
Last but not least, one needs a copy of all their accommodation bookings.
We used Accor hotels, where there was no Accor hotel I used Booking.com. I also cross referenced it to another overlanding hotels and hostels. A good source of information is the Horizons Unlimited Motorcycle Adventure Travellers. Some cities in Russia have only in the last 10 to 20 years open up to visitors, so not all city have the big 4 to 3 star hotels we are used to. Once the accommodation has been booked and paid, it can not be changed. This will get you into serious trouble in Russia.
All accommodation needs to be paid for in advance, don’t forget to include addresses and the phone numbers of the accommodation. If ones visa is declined, this will be the reason why. I even send this part of visa application to Moscow for the Real Russia staff to check.
Make the exit day, the day after you intend to leave Russia. The Russian Visa is only valid for 30 days.. don’t become an overstayer in this country. I even rang Moscow to discuss the dates with them in case the train was late. Be very careful with the date. It is hard enough getting thru immigration as St Petersburg airport.
The Russian Visa can only be applied for 90 days in advance, so make it your last visa application if one is going to go thru other countries.It takes 10 days to be processed. It costs NZD$510 including the bank cheque fee plus NZD$25 for courier fees.
We only just got our passports back the day before we were due to fly to Hong Kong.. by that time, I was more than ready to go.. So no the Russian visa process is not as hard as other travellers make it out to be.
Realrussia.co.uk are a travel company based in Moscow and London, who specialize in Trans Mongolian and Trans Siberian railway travel.
For us Hong Kong was the ideal starting point for this adventure, as it meant one less visa, and we had visited two times prior on our way to Europe. It is a city, that you either like or hate.
We love Hong Kong. On our previous trip, we had done all the tourists things like Disneyland, etc. I also knew that it was getting close to the 21 year anniversary of hand over to the Chinese, so it was the best option to start the Trans Mongolian and Trans Siberian railway.
More on Hong Kong next time….